Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
CB, MR ANDREW
MONDAY 13 MAY 2002
20. You admitted "... that it was not possible
to cut staff on the front line such as nurses, doctors and teachers.
But these make up only about half of the 4m public sector employees".
You said "... of the other 2m, up to 40% could be replaced".
(Mr Pinder) First of all, I did not give an interview
to the Sunday Times, nor did I say anything approaching that.
Those quotes are just not what I said. In making my differentiation
between the private sector and the public sector it is perfectly
correct to say that I did point out much of the public sector
consists of frontline staff, doctors, nurses, teachers, people
who drive dust carts and so on, many of whom, whilst their service
might be improved by the use of IT are not completely dependent
upon it in the way they deliver their services. Therefore the
private sector and the public sector are very hard to compare
in the way they might deliver services. Saying that 20 per cent
of public sector jobs might go over a period of time compared
to 20 per cent of private sector jobs would be a completely wrong
conclusion, or wrong parallel to draw. I am bound to say the article
has got it completely upside down.
21. I accept; we are all often quoted out of
context and so on, often by the Sunday Times. I am not against
efficiency savings in Government and redeployment of people or
getting rid of people whose job does not exist any more. I seem
to remember that in this report it says that in the Land Registry,
where it used to take ten people to do a particular task, it now
only takes one. Fantastic. Surely you should have the courage
to say yes, that will mean traditional Whitehall jobs will disappear.
(Mr Pinder) I am sure that the Land Registry in talking
to their staff about that did have the courage to say that. Whether
one can then extrapolate out across the whole public sector and
say that every department and every organisation will be cutting
staff in that sort of way as a consequence of delivering better
e-services would be wrong, simply because you will find much of
the effort we put into delivering better e-services will be about
delivering a better quality of service or providing more resource.
That is why I think that Departments and organisations need to
look at the individual projects they are implementing in order
to discuss their savings. That is one reason why I would not generalise
across the whole public sector.
22. If you take the Passport Agency, when you
have a system where you can apply for your passport entirely on-line
in the sense of filling in a form and it being processed automatically,
many people in the Passport Agency who at the moment do a fairly
routine clerical job will not have a job any more. Is that not
the case? They may be redeployed elsewhere in the Passport Agency
or in Government. I am not saying those individuals might become
unemployed, but that the jobs they do at the moment would disappear.
(Mr Pinder) There may well be many such examples,
just as there would be examples of people who are taking advantage
of IT and their job is not affected at all, it is just that the
service they deliver is improved. I agree with you that you have
to look at these things on a case by case basis and as Departments
come forward with projects which do make improvements in efficiency,
they have to look at the consequences of those improvements in
efficiency and how they are going to deploy any savings they might
get. I agree that there will be examples where quite dramatic
savings can be made and that is one of the benefits of this technology.
There are also lots of situations where dramatic improvements
of service can take place and that is another advantage of this
23. I am a great supporter of the work you are
doing. You have a very ambitious target. I was going to ask what
exactly you meant by your target, but you seem, unless I have
got it wrong, to be absolutely clear that all Government services,
with one or two exceptions such as various things to do with victims
of crime and so on, will be available on-line, not just information
about those services, but we will be able to apply for a driving
licence, apply for a passport, file our tax returns, do those
kinds of things, interact with Government, claim benefits and
so on, on-line by 2005.
(Mr Pinder) Yes. The Prime Minister's statement in
March 2000 was quite clear that all Government services will be
24. That is not just information about Government
services. I was checking out your website this morning. At the
moment if you want to apply for a passport, sure enough you can
fill in the form on-line, but then they post it to you and tell
you to sign it, enclose a couple of photos and post it back. So
we shall be able to apply for a passport on-line in 2005.
(Mr Pinder) I do not particularly want to go into
individual cases. The commitment is all Government services on-line.
In that particular case, that service has been delivered on-line.
My issue with that particular service is that it is not yet a
complete service. In order to make it really attractive to people,
we ought to be able to complete the whole transaction on-line
and therefore that falls more into the category of take-up of
services, making the services very attractive to take up rather
than simply fulfilling the somewhat bald commitment to get the
service itself on-line.
25. Just being able to print off an application
form on-line as opposed to going to your local post office is
not really delivery of service on-line, is it?
(Mr Pinder) I agree with that. The submission of something
electronically is in that particular case what we count as on-line.
Behind that particular service there are lots of complications
around the authentication of the person who is sending the form
in and sending in their photographs. Therefore there are some
dependencies which may well inhibit the Passport Office being
able to deliver the whole process completely on-line. It may require
at some stage the submission of some document to prove a person's
identity. Until we get to the stage where everyone can do that,
it will not be possible to deliver that service completely on-line.
Within the realms of the available technology and the available
authentication techniques, I should be looking to have a service
which is available on-line in the way you describe it.
26. That includes applications for driving licences,
applications for benefits. Many Government services do require
authenticating documents. Indeed this very good academic article,
which I actually had time to read, says that Government obsession
with secrecy around the world is one of the problems which delays
the implementation of e-government around the world. The trouble
is that many, many services require supporting documents. We know
that as MPs because we have to deal with benefit cases and so
on. Are you really saying that by 2005 people will be able to
apply for benefits on-line, maybe they will have to put something
in the post or maybe scan a letter from a doctor into the computer
and send it?
(Mr Pinder) In that particular service, as in all
services which are just focused on a Department, it would be better
to talk to the people who are doing it in the Department for Work
and Pensions. What I am trying to do is ensure that Departments
do deliver a service which is an on-line service and they do deliver
it in a way which makes people want to do it. In delivering a
benefits service, whether it is practical to ask people to take
documents and get them scanned in and sent electronically may
well not be practical in this timescale. It would not be a sensible
thing to do if one wanted to get decent take-up. What we are trying
to do is make sure that where people want to access a service,
it is available in an attractive way electronically. Whether one
wants to go the Full Monty on everything, where the whole transaction
end to end is electronic, in some respects is over ambitious and
27. Are we not, to a degree anyway, now playing
catch-up? I looked at the US and Canadian Government websites
and, with the greatest respect, I felt they were a lot more sophisticated
that the UK Government one. For a start you can apply for Canadian
and US Government benefits on-line; I hit a problem when they
started asking for my social security number. There was nothing
like that on the UK Government website.
(Mr Pinder) I was talking to a man called Mark Foreman,
who is my sort of counterpart in this particular area in the USA
(at federal level) and he was saying exactly the opposite, that
they feel they are playing catch-up with us and that in fact they
do regard themselves as being behind the UK in the delivery of
Government services. In order to put at least some facts behind
this argument, we have a variety of surveys which are carried
out, some of which show us well in the lead, some of which show
us behind. We have asked the Office of National Statistics to
carry out some international benchmarking to place us firmly in
the league table of the top industrial countries and that benchmarking
is going out now. The ONS have put a proposed methodology out
to their international counterparts.
28. There is a rather good table. You do not
have to waste all this money doing that because there is a rather
good table 10 on page 23 of the NAO report which says you are
behind Canada, Singapore, the United States. When we look at level
of services, you are also behind Norway, Finland and Australia.
(Mr Pinder) I would argue that is relatively subjective
commentary. What we want to try to do is provide a public benchmark
which international counterparts agree to, which looks at Government
services and a range of other services, including for example,
our situation rolling out broad band and so on, which everyone
can sign up to and recognise as a proper comparison. I do not
accept that we are significantly behind other countries and I
would argue in fact that in most countries we are regarded as
being in the lead.
29. In America you can apply for a student loan
in effect, or what they call a FAFSA on-line and in the "Do
it on-line" bit of the British website, the things you can
do are: nominate someone for an honour, which if you are a party
leader is quite useful, but otherwise not so useful; you can help
the homeless, which we all want to do but it is about volunteering
your time; we can find out what is on in the UK, but we can buy
Time Out for that; you can let the Post Office know you have changed
your address; you can get a fishing licence, but when I clicked
that my computer warned me it was not a secure page and that it
did not have an up-to-date security certificate on it.
(Mr Pinder) That page on our website is simply designed
to give some examples of the sorts of things people can do on-line.
There are about 260-270 services which can be accessed on-line.
Lots of other transactions people can do on-line, for example
booking and paying for the theory driving test, claiming to recover
debts on-line. There are lots and lots of services. If you wish,
we can provide you with a much more comprehensive list than the
one we put onto our website.
30. You did quote the only one which I did genuinely
think was really useful which was booking the theory driving test.
I suppose if I ever have to reclaim court debts it could be quite
useful. Why does the fishing licence web page not have an adequate
security certificate? My computer warned me. It said there was
a problem with the security certificate, it had expired or was
(Mr Pinder) We shall certainly be taking that up with
DEFRA and the Environment Agency. I suspect that is a technical
issue around the fact that they have not yet got the proper certificate
out of their website provider to certify the thing is free from
viruses. You can take it that it will be.
31. So these are really your ten flagship on-line
(Mr Pinder) They are examples, not necessarily flagships.
32. They must be. There must be a reason why
you chose these ten to put on the main home page.
(Mr Pinder) We chose the ten simply to show the range
of services which are available rather than to pick out the most
significant ones. If it would be helpful to the Committee, I am
happy to provide a longer list of services which are available
on-line if that would help.
Chairman: I should just be happy if you were
to answer Mr Osborne's questions really.
33. One final issue about security. This academic
report does say that security is generally a problem, that there
is a culture in Whitehall around security. However, there does
seem to be a practical impact which is that it says in paragraph
2.12, page 35, "Some smaller departments are concerned about
the cost and practicality of obtaining the necessary accreditation
covering document security and transfer which is required before
they can connect to the Government Secure Intranet". Could
you expand on what that is talking about?
(Mr Pinder) Yes and it is a valid concern. The Government
Secure Intranet (GSI) connects major Departments because a lot
of confidential information is passed around on that intranet
and also because if it were attacked, by a denial-of-service attack
for example, it could cause severe damage to the national infrastructure.
We protect it quite tightly. Therefore in order to connect to
the GSI, whoever wants to connect to the GSI has to have certification
that their own network itself is secure. That is quite an expensive
process currently and is done by an organisation called CESG which
is an offshoot of GCHQ, they being the experts in internet security
in the Government realm.
34. No wonder the fishing licence site was not
secure if they had to go to GCHQ.
(Mr Pinder) They are an accreditation authority for
the GSI. CESG is a semi-commercial arm of GCHQ which does a number
of these sorts of services, not just for central government and
local government but also for private firms who are part of the
critical national infrastructure. We generally accept that that
process is cumbersome, expensive and we want to make it much more
efficient. We are working currently with CESG to make that so.
We want to make it much slicker for small departments and indeed
local authorities just to be able to connect, in a much more informal
and faster way, into the GSI in order to be able to link into
these central services.
35. One final question, if I may, to Ms McDonald
about e-mails. In the academic article, which, once you get beyond
the jargon, is very interesting, it says that there is a problem
with the use of e-mails in the Civil Service because of the hierarchy
of the Civil Service, that e-mails are inherently an informal
way of communicating within an organisation. I thought as the
Permanent Secretary you would know about hierarchies as you are
at the top of one. Do you use e-mail regularly in dealings with
your Deputy Secretaries and Under Secretaries?
(Mavis McDonald) All Cabinet Office business is done
36. There is no longer that endless stream of
paper that I remember when I was a special adviser.
(Mavis McDonald) There are streams of paper because
we get a lot of external communication coming into the Cabinet
Office which is not at the moment sent by e-mail. Some of that
comes from the House and we are hoping we shall be able to improve
some of that over time. In terms of internal communications with
the Department to Ministers and between officials and to other
Departments, we use e-mail.
37. Maybe this is a bit too personal about the
way you run your office. Do you read them on-line or does your
Private Secretary print them off?
(Mavis McDonald) Anything very long I tend to have
printed off, but I go in in the morning, put on my machine, click
through the stuff that has come in and anything I can deal with
immediately I will deal with immediately. This caused some surprise
when I first started.
38. How junior can someone be to send you an
e-mail? Below grade 5?
(Mavis McDonald) No, anybody can send me an e-mail
if they are the appropriate person to be communicating on that
subject. We do not have a hierarchy which says you can only do
it through various steps. I would go back directly to the person
who sent me the e-mail.
39. That is very good news. It does say here
that if e-mail addresses are not seen as official, the moves towards
proactive service delivery will be almost impossible to implement.
I commend the Cabinet Office.
(Mavis McDonald) I do not think colleagues in other
Departments behave any differently. The take-up of e-mail and
the use of the GSI to get that interconnectivity between Departments
over the last two or three years has really transformed the way
business is done.
Mr Osborne: They have not let me into a Government
Department for over five years.
2 Note by witness: I am sure you will be pleased
to hear that this message was displayed in error, and that the
site is in fact completely secure. The Environment Agency has
confirmed that the problem lies not in the site itself but in
the interface between the browser and the VeriSign Global certificate
which is used to secure `Fish-e' transactions. The occurrence
of this bug might occur on any site where this browser and authentication
mechanism are being used in combination. Microsoft and Veri Sign
take this error seriously and are taking steps to correct the
situation. In the meantime, the Environment Agency is taking action
to alert and reassure users of the site, for example they are
placing a notice on the `Fish-e' FAQ section to warn customers
of the problem and that their transaction is indeed secure until
the problem can be rectified. You may also be interested to hear
that since February, there have been over 18,000 transactions
on the site, but only two emails from members of the public reporting
this error. Back